Thursday, January 26, 2012


I wonder what the passengers in the sailing ship Euterpe would have thought had they known that their voyage of 1879, London to New Zealand, had been so extensively recorded, and that the records survived for over 130 years. There were three diaries written by passengers and a couple of short accounts written from memory long afterwards. And there was "The Euterpe Times" – all fourteen issues of the ship's newspaper.

On 4th September a meeting was held on the quarter deck where it was decided to publish a weekly newspaper in order to relieve the monotony of the long voyage ahead. It was unanimously resolved that Mr Stead Ellis take the chair (an empty tub) and he was also elected as editor, with Mr W. Young as sub-editor. Five or six copies of each edition would be published (it was of course to be in manuscript form) so Messrs Charlesworth, Rayson, Waite, Bargh and Owen volunteered to be clerks. Messrs Peck, Skinner and Chapman were appointed correspondents for steerage, the third cabin and the saloon.

A committee of ten, then, set about obtaining news, writing poems and letters, puzzles and conundrums and jokes, describing sports events, reviewing concerts, and soliciting letters to the editor. The first issue of The Euterpe Times appeared on Saturday 13th September with the big news of the day – the series of accidents that befell the ship before she even left Gravesend. The steamship Talford rammed her bow and sent her backwards into the Hahneman (the spelling throughout is quirky and may not be accurate) and Euterpe was towed back into the East India dock for repairs.

When she finally got underway the enthusiastic reporters recorded sightings of interesting sea creatures and birds – "a fine Benito was caught off the forecastle on Sunday morning by Mr. J. Middleton". The "speakings" were described – the ships that passed by and engaged in flag-conversation, dipping their flags in salute, and sometimes even close enough for the crew to row across and exchange mail and supplies. No doubt readers welcomed the news that it was Captain Phillips's intention to "erect a temporary bath on the main deck during the course of the coming week so that those who wish may avail themselves of this boon." There were lost and found notices – a grey blanket, a white handled pocket-knife with two blades and corkscrew, a pair of scissors left on the after hatch, finders please bring the items to the editor.

The staff was kept busy taking notes, even at Sunday services. The first issue of The Euterpe Times reported on an evening prayer meeting at which Mr Martin delivered an "interesting discourse" which he helpfully divided into three heads, each being treated "very lucidly and at considerable length". You can almost see the suppressed yawn here as the scribe noted that darkness intervened before the conclusion.

And the concerts, oh the concerts. Such riches. The programmes were published, and we learn that the First Mate, Mr Algernon Back, and Mr Chapman performed a violin duet in the third musical entertainment held on 5th September, and that Mr Tichbon sang a comic song called "Alonzo the Brave".

And that was just the first edition of "The Euterpe Times".

Photograph: Euterpe's second class cabin (c) Mike Wood Photography, with grateful thanks

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